Social media and social networking are quickly becoming de rigueur? for business. A recent study by the Chicago-based firm, Slack Barshinger, showed that small and medium businesses are getting ?heavily involved with social media, with about half using blogs, wikis, Twitter or other social media channels for business purposes.? If your company and team are not yet engaged, it’s time to jump in before your competitors beat you to the punch; and ?punch? is an apropos term.

This is not your father?s marketing. When participating in social media, here are ten basic rules for what to do and not do:

DON?T:

1)? Don’t get started in social media if you have significant product weaknesses or customer support issues. Engaging in social media makes good products more successful, and bad products? dead. But don’t delay for long; address the issues and then jump in.

2)? Don’t use social media to overtly market or sell. Instead educate, enlighten, inform, and entertain your audience. In so doing, you’ll position yourself and your company as an expert in your field and benefit from the media halo?.

3)? Don’t ?set it and forget it. That makes you look worse than not showing up at all. Once started, sustain your participation and interaction.

4)? Don’t go negative. Emphasize your strengths and advantages rather than claiming that a competitor has weaknesses.

5)? Don’t mix personal and business accounts/personas, etc.

6)? Don’t expect to fully control the conversation. Social media is not an advertisement, product brochure, newsletter, email blast, or one-way monologue; it’s a conversation. Conversations are bi-directional and can have rough edges. Even if you don’t want to participate, your customers and prospects are already talking. Join them.

7)? Don’t worry about some negativity. Studies show that a little negativity increases credibility and empathy. Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln: You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Be responsive to the negative.

8)? Don’t feel the need to disclose everything. Not everyone who likes sausage wants to see exactly how it’s made. Be open and honest and use discretion.

9)? Don’t be a generalist. With literally hundreds of millions of blogs + videos + podcasts to choose from, every individual can precisely tailor their consumption to their interests. Focus on one topic and do it well (the narrower the better).

10)? Don’t overwhelm your followers with too much information, or too frequently. Everybody?s got a busy life and nobody enjoys getting ?Twitter-ria?. Focus on the highest value information and content.

 

DO:

1)? Do the up-front planning as you would for any important business initiative. Define your target audience, detail how you intend to create value for them, and map out how you expect them to create value for you. Document your approach and objectives per medium (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

2)? Do read and listen first. In the beginning, listen and learn for a few weeks before responding. In general, spend twice as much time listening as responding.

3)? Do display your Personality, and keep the content Interesting and Entertaining (the old radio adage ?PIE?). Remember that people buy from people; show your professional self.

4)? Do be authentic. Never before has a medium and its participants been more skilled at smelling a rat and turning against the perpetrator.

5)? Do remember that social media is about two-way conversation (see Don’t try to control? above). Conversation builds trust; trust leads to more sales.

6)? Do favor timeless content over the time-sensitive (note: this varies based on the medium and there are exceptions). We live in a time-shifted ?TiVo? world and there’s wonderful leverage in creating a blog post (for example) that will have value to new readers weeks, months, or even years from now.

7)? Do remember that ?push? is out; ?pull? is in. In today’s information-rich world, people want to opt-in, choosing where they spend their time. Give them a reason to choose your content.

8)? Do keep your eyes open. Use Google Alerts, search.twitter.com, relevant Linkedin Groups, Ning networks, and more to listen to the conversation about your company, your competitors, and the best practices in your industry.